Tag Archives: romance

Defining Moments: Technology & Yesterday’s Coffee

Marvin unplugged his computer for the fourth time as yet another thunderstorm rolled through. He worked on battery, trying to meet his self-imposed deadline, but the computer died before he could finish. Frustrated, he gave up. He turned off the lights and stretched out on the couch to watch the storm outside. He toyed with the idea of plugging the computer back into the wall, but repeated lightning strikes lit up the room. He couldn’t afford a new computer and he didn’t want to lose all of his work on this one.

His cell phone jarred him awake. Why had he set the ringtone to that annoying buzz? He stumbled across the now-dark room towards the sound, bumping into a chair and cursing on his way. He grabbed the phone and caught a glimpse of a 716 area code before the display flashed its low battery warning and went dark. The clock on the microwave beamed a steady 12:06. A few hours ago, the phone had said the battery was at 100% and he’d unplugged it.

Obviously it had lied.

He turned on a light. The storm had passed, so he plugged in both the phone and his computer to let them recharge, though he didn’t hold out much hope for the phone. He probably needed a new one, or at least a new battery – if they even sold batteries for it anymore. Someone told him the new ones didn’t have batteries.

He decided to make a cup of coffee and get back to the story he’d been trying to finish all day. As he waited for the microwave to chime, his thoughts wandered back to the phone call. He knew that area code. It was an East coast number. It would be three in the morning there. If he knew the caller, their name would have popped up, not the number.

A telemarketer? Not at three in the morning. A bill collector? They weren’t supposed to call in the middle of the night either, and he didn’t have any debts anyway.

It had to be an emergency – someone calling with bad news.

The phone rang again. He didn’t think it let calls through while it was charging. He looked at the number and hit answer, but again the phone died before he connected with the caller. He repeated the number as he wrote it on his whiteboard.

The first thing he did on his computer was a reverse search for the number. Angela Newsome – no one he knew. He took a sip of coffee. She was probably calling his number by mistake. That’s all – it was probably just a dyslexic error or she was drunk, this time of night.

He tried to work on his story.

He went back and looked for more information about Angela.

She did live in a small town near his aunt and uncle. What if she was letting a stranger – a member of his family – use her phone at a hospital because their cell phone had died? It had to be important for her to have tried calling twice at this hour.

The phone rang again and he dashed across the room to answer it. Again it died without making a connection. As Marvin stared at the useless piece of technology in his hand, he felt he had to contact Angela Newsome as quickly as possible. He wouldn’t get any work done until he knew the reason for the calls. He copied the number onto a piece of paper and the phone actually let him check that he had it right, though he couldn’t call out.

It had to be something wrong with Uncle Joe or Aunt Helen. They were in their eighties. It could be either of them, one lying in the hospital with a heart attack that promised to be fatal and the other desperately reaching out to family for support.

He slipped his wallet into his pocket with the paper, put on his shoes, and found his car keys on the kitchen shelf where he’d left them earlier. He didn’t stay in touch the way he should. A few years back, Aunt Helen had called him late at night when one of their grandkids wrapped a car around a tree. The kid didn’t make it, and Marvin hadn’t gone to the funeral.

He paused on his way to the door. Did he really want to know what was happening?

Maybe he could wait until tomorrow, go buy a new phone or battery, have his number transferred if necessary, and then he could call. The only funeral he’d ever attended was the one for his parents and kid sister, when he was sixteen.

It was his fault they weren’t safe at home. He’d gotten so obnoxiously drunk that night that someone had called his parents – either to get rid of him or to get him home safe. He didn’t even remember. His sister rode along because when he was like that he responded better to her. He didn’t even get hurt in the accident; neither did the drunk who plowed into them.

Marvin hadn’t had a drink since that night.

Joe and Helen had taken him in while he finished high school. Their kids were older – already had families of their own, scattered all over the country. Some of them might even be living out his way. Aunt Helen could be calling for him to go help someone dear to them.

The night was crystal clear, with stars shining brightly. The air was still moist and aromas heightened – damp earth and pines. It wasn’t a bad night for a drive. He wound down dark roads into the little town near the highway, where the diner was open all night.

He explained his dilemma to the woman who seated him.

“I can’t let you use the business phone, but I’ll get my cell for you,” she replied.

“Thank you,” he said as she handed him a menu. He felt like he had to order something. “I’ll have a cup of coffee.”

“It’s yesterday’s.”

“That’s okay.”

He planned to leave her a large tip anyway.

The first time he called the number, he got a voicemail message that confirmed it was Angela’s phone. He left a message and took a sip of the bitter coffee.

“No one answering now?” asked the waitress.

He shook his head.

“They called you three times… I’d call them back the same,” she said.

Not sure if he was angry or worried, Marvin called the number again and hung up when it went to voicemail. His third try a young woman answered – groggy, confused, and irritated.

“Who is this?” she demanded.

“Marvin Harrington. You called me three times.”

“I didn’t make any calls. You called me.”

“Your number was recorded on my phone. Three times, about forty minutes ago.”

“I was asleep. It’s the middle of the night.” She was mostly irritated at this point.

“Could someone else have used your phone?”

“No, I live alone.”

He could hear her running water.

“So you’re saying your phone must have called me itself?”

“No, you probably made a mistake copying the number,” she said, then yawned.

“I double-checked it.” Marvin was sure he’d gotten it right.

“Listen, I don’t know how my phone could have called you, but…”

“What?”

“Wait a minute.” Suddenly she was alert.

He waited, heard her walking down stairs. When she didn’t say anything, he asked “Are you okay?”

“There’s a weird light in my yard. . . Are you some kind of psycho trying to lure me out of my house? I have a gun.”

“No. I’m sitting in a diner in Arizona.” He flagged down the waitress and held the phone out to her. “Tell her I’m not in her yard.”

“Hello?” said the waitress. “This fella’s sitting in the diner, using my phone. He was six kinds of worried who was calling him so late from back East.” She gave him the phone back. “She says she’s going outside to see what’s going on.”

“You should call the police,” he said into the phone, suddenly fearful for Angela.

“I’m walking out to the hedge to see. . . Oh shit, someone’s put their car in the ditch. I have to call 911.”

“Call me back. I want to know you’re okay.”

The line was dead.

“You done with my phone?” asked the waitress.

“She said there’s a car in the ditch. I asked her to call back. Can I wait here awhile? In case she does? It’ll be your phone number.”

“I’m here until eight in the morning. You can keep my phone on the table, but let me know if there’s a local call. My kids should be asleep, but you never know.”

“Of course, and I’ll get some breakfast, I guess.”

“You don’t have to, but it’ll keep that coffee from rotting your gut.”

“It is a little strong. But that’s okay. I wasn’t going to sleep more tonight anyway.”

He was half-way through his greasy eggs and hash browns when the cell phone rang. It was the 716 number again.

“Hello?”

“Marvin?” The woman’s voice quavered.

“Yes. This is Marvin.”

“It’s Aunt Helen. This nice young woman’s let me use her phone. She said you woke her up insisting she’d called you.”

“Are you okay? Was it your car in the ditch?”

“Yes, and your uncle’s arm was bleeding something terrible. I didn’t dare leave him – I had to keep pressure on it. We were on our way home from Junior’s and we were close enough we decided not to spend another night in a motel. I was supposed to stay awake and help keep him alert, but I dozed off and he must have, too.”

“You’re sure you’re not hurt?”

“I’m fine. This angel is driving me to the hospital behind the ambulance.”

“Angel?”

“The girl you called,” explained Helen.

“Is Uncle Joe going to be alright?”

“The medics took him to the hospital because he lost a lot of blood, but they were able to get it to stop. They said he wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t kept the pressure on.”

“How long ago did you crash?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, but it seemed like forever. I was terrified I’d fall asleep again and he’d bleed to death.”

“Where were your cell phones?”

“I think they were in the cup holder, but they must have gone flying when we rolled.”

“The car rolled?” he asked in a panic. He was answered by silence. “Aunt Helen? Are you there? Are you okay?”

“Hold on,” said a different female.

As he waited he heard voices in the background, not clear enough to hear the words.

“Marvin?”

“Yes. Who is this?”

“Angela Newsome. It’s my phone? We’re at the hospital now. They’re both going to be okay. You’re really in Arizona?”

“Yeah.”

“Is there any family here that I can call?” she asked.

“I don’t think so, but Helen carries a little address book in her purse. That’ll have people you can contact for her.”

“Okay. . . Nice meeting you, I guess,” she said.

“Yeah. Thanks for going out to check on that light when you thought I was a psycho.”

“Psycho, psychic – where’s the line? I didn’t really have a gun.”

“You would have here. It seems like I’m the only person I know who doesn’t have one.”

“So if you were a psycho, you would have believed me,” she said.

“I didn’t doubt you for a minute.”

“I’ll stick around until someone they know comes. And I’ll call you later and let you know how they are,” Angela promised.

“Thanks. My cell phone’s not working right, but I’m getting it replaced first thing in the morning. My number should work by noon your time.”

Marvin gave his future wife his phone number.

“This coffee really isn’t too bad.” He smiled at the waitress as he returned her phone.

Defining Moments is a series of character studies and defining moments- short sketches to whet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about one of these characters, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com  
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Sheri McGuinn IMDb

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Defining Moments: Future in Podunk

Looking ahead, James could see the train snake around a curve. Then centrifugal force gently shifted him away from the coach window. In every sense of the term, his future was unclear.

Charlotte had been against this from the beginning. She was right about the timing. Quitting a good job was always risky; with the economy unstable, even more so.

And it might be a pipe dream.

Why had his father always used that term? The old man hadn’t been a drug user. Maybe he meant bagpipes. Or church organ pipes. There was no way to know now.

As a kid, forced to spend his weekends and holidays helping out at his father’s garage, James had sworn he was going to have a job where the grease didn’t soak into his skin. Working on cars, you could scrub yourself lobster red, yet, when you rinsed off the soap, your hands would still be grimy in the deep creases. He’d hated that.

Charlotte kept throwing it into his face, “You’re never going to be happy anywhere. Why not keep a good steady paycheck where you don’t have to be a grease monkey?”

“Maybe it was having my father for a boss that I hated,” he’d replied, almost making himself believe it. “Maybe I hate having a boss, period. Maybe I want to do work that means something.”

“You help people plan their future.”

“I help them lose it…”

The recommendations he’d made to several clients had crashed along with most of the market. He was good with engines. He’d be able to help people keep their cars on the road when they couldn’t afford new ones.

“Well, I’m not moving to the middle of Podunk,” Charlotte had announced. “I have a good job here and I’m keeping it. And I’m keeping the house. You’ll be glad once you come to your senses.”

“You can’t afford the mortgage alone, and I don’t know how much I’ll be able to send.”

“I’ll rent out the spare room. If you’re lucky, I’ll take you back once you’re done with this early-onset mid-life crisis.”

So he had a safety net, of sorts—if she didn’t end up getting some young hunk for a roommate and change her mind about taking him back. The house was in both their names, but with falling real estate values, their equity had disappeared. She could insist on selling and the bank would get it all. That wouldn’t surprise him; they’d been drifting apart even before his father died. It was just as well Charlotte had never wanted kids.

The future was so uncertain. He’d always had a plan, all the steps to get where he wanted to be by thirty-five. And he got there ahead of schedule. Then thirty-five came and went and… nothing. There was no prize; no dreams; nowhere he wanted to go. When the market’s slide started, he realized he’d been working for a system that pretended to care about people. It was all fake. He’d believed his own sales hype.

But the garage, that was different; fixing something that was broken, something tangible that people really needed. He had a lot to learn, though. His father had invested in all the computer-diagnostic gear. Of course he’d still insisted his ear was the best tool he had.

“Jimmy-boy,” he’d say. “Use your senses and the brain God gave you.”

The “boy” always attached to his name didn’t bother him much with forty lurking a couple years away, not like it had when he was a teenager. And now he’d never hear his father say it again. The old man had died in his sleep, holding a photo of the mother James could barely remember. Charlotte had flown out with him for the funeral and the reading of the will.

At the cemetery he’d been overwhelmed by the number of people who came to pay their respects. Mary Jo was even there, and she’d given him a quick hug.

“I’m so sorry.” There were tears in her eyes. “He was a wonderful man.”

Charlotte suddenly appeared at his side and introduced herself as his wife. He was too shocked to correct her. She always said “wife” was a demeaning term inferring a woman was no more than an extension of her mate. Charlotte didn’t believe in marriage.

He’d never told her about losing his virginity with Mary Jo in the back of that old pickup out on the logging road. He’d been too ashamed. They’d been lying on the blanket afterwards, enjoying the sun, when Mary Jo took his hand, then pulled back with an instinctive “euw” from the forever grease embedded by his nails. He’d avoided touching her after that, and when he left for college the next month, he never looked back.

How could Charlotte have cued into that connection?

Not that it mattered. Mary Jo wandered off, talking to other people. His last glimpse of her, a man was helping her into a battered economy car. He didn’t see the guy’s face, but he moved like a young man, and it was a young man’s car. She wouldn’t be interested in rekindling any flame. So she wasn’t the reason for his decision.

There were only four of them present for the reading of the will: the lawyer, James, Charlotte, and the kid who’d been working for his father the last few years.

“Well, James,” the lawyer cleared his throat. “Did your father ever tell you his plans for the garage?”

“Not really.”

Most of their conversations had been on the phone and revolved around weather, politics, and James’ progress toward his goals.

“Well, Sean here… you know Sean, don’t you?”

His father had mentioned the kid from time to time. He’d apparently hung around the garage for years before he was finally old enough to work there. They’d never met, but James nodded, to get the lawyer to continue.

“Well, your father decided he wanted the garage to stay open, you know…”

James’ first thought was that his father had put in a clause to assure the kid would have the first chance to buy the place. Then the cold certainty that his father had left the garage to this Sean person settled into James’ stomach.

“What your father decided is to leave the garage to the two of you, fifty-fifty. If you both want to sell, you can do that only after working together at the place for a year.”

“What!” Charlotte was the one who shouted; James was speechless.

“James can’t do that,” Charlotte explained. “He’s got a good job; he can’t walk away from it for a year and expect it to be there when he gets back.”

“Well,” said the lawyer, “he can make that choice. But then the garage goes to Sean.”

“What about the house?” James asked. The idea of keeping the garage might already have been forming. He’d need a place to stay, though.

“Your dad sold the house long ago,” said the lawyer. “You didn’t know that?”

“He never mentioned it. I haven’t been back since I left; he always joined me for vacations. It was the only way to get him to take time off from work.”

He could count on one hand the number of times his father had come to visit, or met him in a vacation spot, but those had been good times, mostly. His father had complained a little about the business calls James kept taking, but that was the norm for James. He was always connected.

“Jim set himself up in a trailer and split the property when I was a kid,” said Sean. “He sold the house to my mother.”

“The trailer and the property it’s on are yours, James,” said the lawyer.

“So I could stay in it and work the garage with Sean here for a year, then we can sell the place and you can get out of this town.” He finished with a nod to the kid.

“That’s fine with me,” said Sean. “I loved working at the garage, but that was because Jim was there.”

“Your father practically raised Sean after his mother was widowed,” the lawyer explained.

James wondered how he’d never known his father was so close to this kid. He had tended to zone out when his father rambled on about the garage and town, but surely it would have registered if his father had talked about this kid like a second son.

“There has to be a way to break this will.” Charlotte’s voice cut through the uncomfortable silence. “James would lose more by giving up his job than he’d ever get from selling a garage in this little town.”

“Actually,” said James, “I’ve been thinking about making a career change anyway. The year here will give me time to sort out the future.”

Charlotte glared at him and walked out.

Now he was on a train, heading back to the home he’d left twenty years ago. Sean was going to pick him up. They’d spoken on the phone several times in the month it had taken for James to leave his job properly. James had let Charlotte keep the car and put most of his things in storage; he’d confided in Sean that relationship was dying anyway. Sean was sure they should sell after a year, which made the commitment less threatening than it might have been. The kid had graduated from high school almost two years ago and was as anxious to move out of that little town as James had been.

“I only stuck around because Jim needed reliable help,” Sean said.

Sometimes James wondered if the kid was the old man’s illegitimate child. He’d never known his father to be involved with a woman, but maybe he’d been too wrapped up in his own life to notice. His father might have split his property and lived separately like that to protect the woman’s reputation from small town gossips.

But Sean’s mother had just lost her husband when she bought the house, that’s what the lawyer had said. James couldn’t see his father getting involved with a married woman, so Sean wouldn’t have been his.

The old man probably missed having a son; James certainly hadn’t been much of one.

Sean was at the station waiting when James got off the train.

“My car’s over the other side of the street,” he said. “Your train came in a few minutes early.”

When they reached the battered economy car, Sean tied the largest bag to the roof, explaining, “My mom wanted to come along, so I can’t put it in the back seat.”

“Your mother?”

Sean looked over James’ shoulder and grinned. “Come on, he’s here already.”

James turned into a hug, then Mary Jo stepped back and smiled at him.

“Welcome home.”

Defining Moments is a series of character studies and defining moments- short sketches to whet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about one of these characters, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com  
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Sheri McGuinn IMDb

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Novel Bites: Christmas with Sunshine

Novel Bites is a series of short stories from the perspective of secondary characters in my novels. Sometimes the story is straight from the novel, sometimes it’s not. This is from Alice – her father Jack telling us about the moment he became her father. Please comment. Thanks.

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I had one Christmas with Sunshine.

We’d been together since August, though sex and drugs flowed pretty easy on the farm, so there was no way to be sure whose bun was in her oven. But now her belly button was inside out, I was the only one there massaging her back and cuddling up with her at night. I didn’t want anyone else.

We were still having sex. Anna told Sunshine it was perfectly natural and safe. In fact, she said pregnancy hormones increase a woman’s interest in sex – though that might have been wearing off. The last time we did it on Luke’s waterbed, Sunshine needed help getting out of it.

“Jack, I feel like a beached whale.” Then she rubbed her belly and smiled as if being a whale was the best thing in the world.

There were three or four toddlers and a couple waist-high kids living at the farm. I wasn’t completely sure which kids went with which adults, because they ran in a pack and we all watched out for them, more or less. There were two houses and who slept where changed frequently.

At our Thanksgiving feast, one of the older kids asked about Christmas, and there followed quite a debate about whether or not we should promote a commercial holiday. But we didn’t have a television, so the kids weren’t pestering anyone for the latest toys or anything. The kid asking just wanted to know what to expect – which I understood. Looking back at my life overall, you might be surprised to hear me say it, but living day to day with no plans for the future does have its down side.

Usually I kept quiet when the group was deciding on things like that, but that time I spoke up.

“I spent last Christmas in a miserable jungle, wondering if I’d make it through the day alive.” Mostly I kept being a vet to myself, so that was a surprise to most of them. “I don’t give a shit about it being commercial or religious. I just want that warm, peace-loving feeling everyone seems to get when they put up a tree and lights and start thinking about what they can do for other people.”

Longest piece of talk most of them had ever heard from me. Then I sat back and listened while they sorted it out. They decided they didn’t have to be Christians to believe Christ was a good guy who worked for peace, so it was okay to celebrate his birthday.

Once that decision was made, everyone got into it full bore.

We all hiked out into the woods and found a small tree to cut down. Luke suggested digging one up, but Ben, who had spent some time on the farm while his grandfather was still working it, said the tree would likely die when replanted and the one we were cutting would never grow because it was shaded by bigger trees. He said it was actually better for the forest to be thinned out now and then.

The ladies got to baking cookies and pies and popping corn that the bigger kids sewed together into garlands for the tree. I was supposed to call the ladies women, but that’s not how I was brought up and some things stick. Mostly I avoided calling them anything.

Once the smells and glitter got everyone into the spirit, we drew names from a hat, so each of us was responsible for one present and no one knew who had what name. Well, except for the ones helping the toddlers. Susie and Becky and couple other women stepped up to draw with the kids. They were probably the mothers, I guess.

I’m not sure how I got so lucky, but when I opened up my slip of paper, I had Sunshine. The rule was we were to make one gift for our person, unless there was something we knew they really needed or wanted that had to be bought, and they wouldn’t or couldn’t get it for themselves.

Well, Sunshine had all the hand-me-down baby stuff she was going to need, but there was one thing I could buy for her. She wanted a Polaroid camera so she could take pictures of her baby as she grew up. Sunshine didn’t talk much about where she came from – I never did know her real name – but she was sad that there’d never been any pictures of her growing up. She said it made her feel as if maybe she never really existed as a child.

Back while my father was still dragging me around, bragging about my medals and laughing about my shaggy hair, back before hordes of kids descended on the City and drove the original peace-lovers away, one of the guys passing through Sunshine’s life had taken her photo on a sunny day in Golden Gate Park. Sunshine had a copy of it, so she knew she existed there, in one of her gauzy outfits, with a ring of flowers in her hair. She was beautiful. She must have been a beautiful child, too.

So that’s what I got her. I didn’t share my finances with anyone, but I hadn’t spent all my money on drugs. When I first went to ‘Nam, I set it up so almost all my combat pay went into the bank for when I got home again. Figured it would give me a good start. But when I got back, there was nothing I really wanted to do with it, so most of it was still there – more than enough for a camera. I wanted to get Sunshine a lot of other things, but there was that one gift rule, so I settled for buying a dozen rolls of film to go with the Polaroid and wrapped it all in one box.

We exchanged gifts Christmas Eve, because otherwise the kids would have had us all up at the crack of dawn. It was after dinner and we opened them one at a time. I don’t remember what I got, or anyone else. I just remember the smile on Sunshine’s face. Annie wanted to take a photo of us together, but Sunshine said no, she was saving all the film for the baby.

There was a fire in the fireplace and all the lights were off but the Christmas tree and one for Ben to read by. He had a book of Christmas stories and he read them aloud, one by one, until the last kid got carried off to bed asleep and by midnight the adults were ready to call it a night. Then it was just me and Sunshine sitting on the floor, me spread-eagle with her leaning up against me so I could rub her belly as we watched the flames grow low. I leaned my head forward and breathed in the sweetness of her hair.

“Thank you, Jack,” she said softly, pressing her cheek gently against mine. “Not just for the camera, but for sticking with me. We’ll take a picture of all three of us once the baby’s here.”

She was assuming I was going to fill in as this baby’s father, and part of me wanted to, but I wasn’t sure it was mine or whether I would be any good as a father anyway. So I didn’t say anything, just eased back, but I kept rubbing her belly, watching the fire.

That’s when I felt it. The first time, I wasn’t sure. I sat there holding my breath, keeping my hand still in the same spot. Then that baby did a flip or something and there was no doubt at all.

From that moment on, Alice was my daughter.

 Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

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Impressions: The Novice Traveler

Carolyn lumbered through the airport, a backpack slung over her left shoulder, her right arm stretched by the weight of her carry-on.

Big Brother’s voice reminded her, “Unattended bags will be confiscated.”

She stopped to catch her breath, put the suitcase on the floor close to her feet, and moved the backpack to her right shoulder. The pack had been the agent’s idea, so she could make sure everything made the plane change with her. It held more and had better pockets than a traditional purse, but she felt silly carrying it.

She picked up the suitcase and trudged onward. It had taken her forever to get to the departure gate and then they announced a change. Why did it have to be at the opposite end of the airport?

The aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls filled her as she instinctively inhaled deeply. That would have to do. The bakery line was long, her new gate was still a good hike away, and the flight would be boarding soon.

She looked longingly at all the people effortlessly pulling bags on wheels. Why hadn’t the agent suggested that? If her father’s old bag hadn’t been the right size for carry-on she would have shopped for one. Maybe they all had wheels now.

Finally she got to the new right gate.

Carolyn lifted her eyes skyward. “Please don’t let them change it again.”

“You got that right,” said a Gothic person of indeterminate sex.

Carolyn started. She hadn’t meant to talk out loud.

Big Brother repeated his warnings. The Gothic person sniffed, drawing Carolyn’s attention to a nose ring. There was one through the left eyebrow, too. Why would someone do that? It had to hurt.

“You going to Maui, too?” the Goth person asked.

Carolyn paused, but saw no way to keep her destination a secret. She nodded and turned away. There were only two seats left open. The Goth person plopped down next to her.

“I love the islands… you been before?” it said.

Carolyn shook her head and pulled out the novel she’d brought for the plane. She opened it and put her head down, but that didn’t work.

“Kauai’s the best, but Maui’s nice if you stay away from the tourist traps.”

Carolyn stared at the first page.

“I’m Becca.” The girl shoved her ring-laden hand over Carolyn’s book.

Carolyn raised her head and made cautious contact with her fingertips.

The girl’s black lips couldn’t hide her dimples or the openness of her smile. It was just all the black leather and spiky hair and dramatic, ghoulish make-up that made her seem threatening. Well, that and the piercings. Carolyn returned the smile tentatively.

“You’ve been to Hawaii before?” she asked.

“Oh yeah. I love it there. Costa Rica’s nice, too, but Hawaii’s my favorite.”

“Really?” Carolyn thought of all the vacations she’d spent caring for her parents and working on their house – her house now. “You travel a lot?”

“Yup. I’ll stay until my money runs out, then go crash with my folks, get a job, and save up for the next trip. They cut me a deal on rent, to get me to come home sometimes, but eventually I’m going to work my way around the world.”

“How long did it take you to save up for this trip?”

“Three months. Maui’s really cheap if you know how to do it.”

“You’re kidding.”

“About fifty dollars a day. And the plane ticket.” The girl pulled a small electronic device from her pack and stuck pieces of black foam into her ears.

“Fifty dollars a day?” Carolyn sighed. Her hotel alone was three times that.

The girl didn’t hear. She was nodding to a dissonant sound audible despite the ear buds. So Carolyn didn’t talk about the Jeep the agent had insisted she add to the reservation, so she wouldn’t get stuck off-trail or on a beach. Carolyn was too timid to ever leave the road, and too timid to argue with the man. At least he hadn’t made reservations at restaurants for her, though he’d given her a list of places that served delicious fresh sea food – probably all expensive.

Carolyn touched Becca tentatively on the forearm. “Where do you eat?”

The girl emptied the ear closest to Carolyn, but still nodded to the music as she answered. “Mostly from grocery stores, then fix it in the kitchen or barbeque out back at the hostel. Groceries are expensive, but it’s cheaper than eating out.”

“They let you use the kitchen?”

“It’s a hostel. Like a hotel, but with community bathrooms and kitchen.”

“You share the bathroom with strangers?”

“And I’ll be sharing a room with three other people. You can get a private room, but it costs more. I’ve only done that when my gram came along.”

“Your grandmother?”

“Yep. She travels the same way. Hey, let me give you her email.”

As the girl handed Carolyn the slip of paper, a disembodied voice called for the first passengers to board. Carolyn stood up. The agent had said a first class ticket was essential for such a long flight. She knew Becca would be flying tourist.

“Are you sure your grandmother won’t mind you giving this to a stranger?”

“That’s the beauty of being a traveler,” Becca smiled. “There’s no such thing as a stranger.”

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about Carolyn’s journey – or Becca’s – leave a comment.

Thanks.

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Heroes

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. The fifth rule is about the hero of the story.

Myth #5 – Women Want the Rough and Tough Guy

Rough around the edges, tough enough no one will mess with his woman? Hopefully not rough with his woman, though? Secretly sweet inside and kind to kittens? Terrified of babies because they’re so helpless?

Is that image why the rough and tough guys so often have more confidence than the nice, polite, considerate guys?

Me Too Connection

As I write, this scene is still playing in my mind: A high school study hall. A dozen kids at most, mostly boys, a few girls. The girls and half the boys trying to focus on their schoolwork. The other boys carrying on rowdy conversation as they enter the room, being corrected once, twice. One girl annoyed with them. Maybe because of things the teacher can’t hear. Then a clear comment about the girl’s sexual activities broadcast to the entire room clearly. The girl landing a few punches as she cries out at the injustice of his talking about her after they’d broken up, then running out of the room in tears.

Shock when the teacher sends the boy to the office with a referral for sexual harassment. Just words? There doesn’t have to be touching? Half the boys, the other girls, still quiet. None telling the boy or his friends that they are jerks, none asking to go after the girl to make sure she’s okay. Staying out of it.

There doesn’t even have to be truth in the words. A lie does just as much damage. Rumors never die. Even with everything in the news, times have not changed for the better, not for that teenage girl this cold day in 2018.

Rule #5 – Heroes Wear White Hats

Not literally, unless I do a western romance. But my heroes will be good guys who stand up for what’s right, follow a code of honor, and treat women as equals worthy of respect.

00A2011SheriCMYK

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Happy Single

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. The fourth one is that single women can’t have meaningful lives and be happy.

Myth #4 – Women are incomplete without a partner.

Funny thing…married women will invite single men or single fathers for dinner, but they don’t invite single women unless there’s a suitable single match coming.

When my kids were little, I thought it might be just us – they were pretty rambunctious. Then we got invited for a barbeque by the mother of my youngest son’s friend – not a big party, just the two families, not a single man in sight. And she told me why she’d offered the invitation: She and her husband had grown up in that small town, had had the same group of friends for decades, and when her husband recovered from a life-threatening heart attack, one of those women told her “I’m so glad he got better. I’d have missed having you as a friend.” If her husband had died, they would not have continued including her in their gatherings! Unfortunately, this was not a unique situation.

We’re encouraging young girls to take STEM classes, we keep fighting for equal wages for equal pay, we’ve gotten more men involved in caring for their children, but socially married women still exclude single women. Based on conversations with married friends, I don’t think this is a planned action. It makes some sense that couples would gravitate towards couples for socializing.

But why are single men included more often than single women?

I suspect it’s because a single man is traditionally more likely to be career-centered, while a single woman must be looking for a partner, which makes her a potential threat. And a married woman is traditionally less likely to risk that relationship than a man (because she needs it), and she’s more likely to be the one doing the inviting. Note I used the word “traditionally”. We often continue behaviors that no longer apply to current circumstances, because they’ve been ingrained over generations.

Of course the expectation in a romance novel is that there’s a happily-ever-after or at least a happy beginning for a couple. However, it’s okay for men to be happy single. There’s no reason single women can’t be happy and have fulfilling lives. They’re actually in a better position to have a good partnership than if they go into one needy.

Me Too Connection

The idea that a woman needs to be attached harkens back to the bad old days when women were the property of their fathers, until they became the property of their husbands. That links to the attitude that men can do whatever they want with women and that once a woman’s been used, she’s inferior.

Rule #4 – My heroines will have meaningful lives.

My heroines will include suddenly and perpetually single women who are developing or already have meaningful activities in their lives beyond the traditional nurturing roles. They will talk with other women about things other than sex, relationships, fashion, and appearances. They will have non-romantic relationships with both men and women.

00A2011SheriCMYK

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Age

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. The third one is about age.

Myth #3 Women are less interested in sex as they age and men can’t get it up.

Have you noticed how the women in the Viagra ads always look twenty or more years younger than the men who need the pill? Even if they aren’t that much younger, the women have dyed their hair and taken care to look young, while men with a little gray at the temple are still considered sexy.

This age myth also feeds into the concept that the only reason that “nice ladies” have sex is for procreation (to make babies). It also supports the idea of women being “used up” if they’ve had too much sex. Really, get over this nonsense! The parts aren’t that fragile and menopause can be sexually liberating.

On the other side, pharmaceutical TV ads directed at consumers (in the U.S. – most countries don’t allow them) make it sound like most men over a certain age need help to perform. Of course, thanks to side effects of other medications that are pushed at older men, it’s often true. However, this focus on the man’s erection as the key to all sexual satisfaction is another misconception.

Bottom line: Sex is not only fun when it’s mutually satisfying, it’s healthy. Orgasm does good things to the body and skin to skin contact and all that touching is good for emotional and psychological health. We don’t age out of the desire for sex.

Me Too – Is ageism linked to the Me Too movement?

Well, one reason for older women to be less interested in sex, or more selective, is the accumulation of negative experiences with sexual aggressors and predators. So really, this is not entirely a myth. However, it should be.  

Rule #3 – My heroines will include mature women

My heroines will include mature women who are willing to risk a relationship and enjoy sex, despite previous negative experiences.Sheri2012RGB2inch

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Me Too & Writing Romance: The Boss

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. Heroines in romance novels interact with more than one person, so these rules aren’t just about the central romance.

Myth #2 – When it’s the boss, you have to put up with it or be rescued.

“It” means anything from rude sexual comments made in our presence all the way to rape on the desk. While a good hero will be supportive, I don’t want my heroines to be downtrodden until they are saved! It’s trickier when the job market is tight and the income is essential, but still, no one should be allowed to get their jollies by using or abusing another person, whether or not it’s sexual. Even if making a formal complaint seems too risky, there may be ways to deal with it directly.

Me too.

I was a young clerk working in a room with my manager and the assistant, both men. Neither of them ever made me uncomfortable. However, a guy on my manager’s level from a different department frequently came in and always tried to embarrass me with nasty stories and jokes. My manager felt anything he said would only make it worse, so with forethought, the next time that guy came into our department, I told a story nastier than any of his. He kept his conversation clean after that.

In another job, my boss suddenly reached out and grabbed my boob. I was bundled up, definitely not the least bit provocative. In shock, I yelled at him and told him if he ever did anything like that again, I’d tell his wife. He was proper with me thereafter.

Why did these tactics work? Sexual aggression is not about sex, it’s about power. In the first case, his power was in making me uncomfortable and I took that away when I turned the tables. In the second case, I went on the offensive, taking the power right away from him. Today, I’d have the option of filing a formal complaint or lawsuit, and if a situation persisted despite any other actions I took to correct it, I would.

Rule #2 – My heroines will stand up for themselves.

In any situation involving sexual or other harassment or aggression by a boss or other person in a position of power over them, my heroines will seize the power one way or another. Furthermore, my heroines and their love interests will treat each other with respect. Any power differential inherent in their positions (rich/poor, boss/employee, etc.) will not be abused. Any sexual interactions will be mutually desired.

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Alcohol

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that are actually thumbnail sketches of longer romances, so I’m turning some into novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at common myths about sex and making myself some rules. The first one is about alcohol.

Myth #1Sex is better after a few drinks

Alcohol lowers inhibitions. If it’s a situation that will lead to remorse (like bedding a friend’s mate), alcohol is obviously being used as an excuse. Where women are concerned, the idea that sex is better after a few drinks reinforces the underlying myths that nice ladies are reluctant to debase themselves that way or that good girls don’t get horny. It supports the dichotomy between “good women” or “nice girls” and the ones who are “easy” or “sluts”.

Physiologically, alcohol makes women less ready for sex. (This Cosmo article goes into that in more detail.) Just like men, women who have too much to drink are less likely to become fully aroused and achieve orgasm.

Alcohol also impairs judgment, which can lead to morning-after regrets. Whenever someone takes this on to denial and falsely cries rape, they impair the credibility of the person who said “no” or “stop” or struggled to get away or were too drunk to know what was happening. In fact, the common practice of having a few drinks to prepare for sex makes any sexual assault involving alcohol or drugs more difficult to prove.

 

Me too

When I was a teenager, two guys got me alone at a party and with clear intentions to take advantage of my impaired condition to have sex with me. Had they succeeded, that would have been rape. However, I was sober enough to deal with it by pretending to “come on” to the smaller one, which got rid of the other guy. By the time I could have walked away, I was feeling the effects of the alcohol I had willingly consumed earlier and was enjoying necking with him, so if we’d had sex at that point, I’d call it my stupidity, not rape – because I got myself drunk and I could have walked away once I had him alone. Fortunately, he’d had too much to drink anyway.

However, I was drugged and “taken advantage of” in college. I was at my desk working on my term paper, hoping the jerk who’d dropped in uninvited would take the hint and leave, then it was dark, we were naked, and he was on top of me and in me. My stomach burned for two days from whatever he put into my Coke. When I saw him on campus after break, I jumped into a relationship with a townie, spent most of the semester off campus or hiding in my room, then dropped out to get married. It took a couple decades to label that correctly as rape.

Rule #1My heroines will never drink to have sex.

They’ll have sex because they want to and being sober won’t stop them from being hot or wild. Whoever they’re with will turn them on, loosen them up, and give them satisfaction—no alcohol or drugs required.

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Me Too + My Fiction

People always ask if the stories I write are about me. No, their stories are not mine.

But, yeah, #Me Too.

My fictional characters have more dramatic experiences than me, but Me Too. I was drugged and “taken advantage of” in my dorm room, as we mistakenly called it back then. I’ve worked in what they now call a hostile work environment more than once. Actually, if you include annoying garbage like the boy behind me in Spanish continually trying to undo my bra, there are too many incidents to list.

As a writer, I use all of it to make my fiction come alive.

In Running Away, Peg marries the wrong guy. He molests her daughter Maggie, who runs away because she’s sure no one will believe her. She’s right. Her mother’s first reaction is denial. Why? Because the predator skillfully manipulated each of them to damage their formerly strong bond. Fortunately for Maggie, her mom’s denial doesn’t last long.

When Peg’s telling a co-worker how she wants to drop everything and go look for Maggie herself, she tells him she ran away at the same age and “My parents thought I was dead for ten years.” The novel is as much about the mother as the daughter. Peg’s been running away from her past all her life.

I didn’t convey that clearly to agents or editors, so I ended up self-publishing. When I sold the screenplay, I never got to talk with the director and with the addition of a few short scenes, he changed the mom’s backstory and made the villain obviously evil. While most of the script is still mine and Running Away is a good Lifetime movie, someday I hope to see it redone with my characters and the theme as intended.

Meanwhile, readers asked for Peg’s story and I’ve finally finished it. While it starts while she’s an innocent teen, it’s her “Me Too” story and the long way back to liking herself enough to be comfortable with all of her past. It will be released later this year.

Keep an eye out for it: Peg’s Story: In Search of Self.

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